Taking a break from Marvel to talk bears!

The Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus) can be found on the Indian Subcontinent. It is an insectivore that descended from a common ancestor of the Brown Bear during the Pleistocene, and they are called Sloth Bears because it was originally thought that they were related to South American sloths. It is a bear of many names, with other common names including the labiated bear and the Stickney bear, but it also has local names in many of the languages spoken in its range:

  • Sanskrit: riksha, bhalluka
  • Hindi: Rinch, bhalu, adam-zad
  • Bengali: Bhalluk
  • Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada: karada
  • Oriya: bhalu
  • Oraon: bir mendi
  • Marathi: Aswal
  • Telugu: yelugubanti
  • Kol: bana
  • Gond: yerid, yedjai, asol

Sloth Bears are unusual in appearance, which might account for the confusion about their relation to South American sloths. They have no upper middle incisors, like other bears do, and their lips are very long, which aids them in scooping up insects. They have shaggy coats, particularly around the neck and ears. Adults can measure up to 6.3 feet (1.9 meters) and weigh approximately 290 pounds (130 kg), but this can vary by age and sex. Males tend to be heavier than females.

As stated above, Sloth Bears are mostly insectivores, having evolved convergently with other insect-eating mammals. They are adept at eating termites, using their long claws to scrape away at the mounds to reach the interior galleries. Their noses are so sensitive that they can detect the smell of grubs up to three feet under ground. Sloth Bears are also very vocal, and will make humming noises when sucking their paws or resting. Sows have been observed making a crooning noise to their cubs, and bears of both sexes are extremely noisy when mating.

The mating season of Sloth Bears takes place in April, May and June, except for the subspecies in Sri Lanka, which can mate during any time of the year. The gestation period is about 210 days, and the pregnant sows give birth to one to three cubs around December. Once the cubs are big enough to start walking, they will ride on their mother’s back for long trips. Sows with young cubs make what is known as “bear bread” for their cubs, which consists of regurgitated half-digested fruit and honeycomb. This substance hardens into a mass, and is considered a delicacy by some of the local people.

Sloth Bears can be aggressive toward humans when encountered in their territory, and they have to defend themselves against the other large creatures of the Subcontinent, like elephants, rhinoceros, and tigers. They depend on aggressive displays to scare off any potential threats, and since they are not as adept as other kinds of bears at climbing trees, they will feel forced to attack when pressed. In spite of this, taming Sloth Bears as performing animals and pets was a common practice up until the mid-20th century, and the practice has started to dwindle into rarity since laws were passed making it illegal in many places. Sloth Bears are considered to be a vulnerable species by the IUCN.

Source for all images used in this post.